The blindness behind the NGO petition to end the Gaza blockade
Jun 20, 2012 | Sharyn Mittelman
Fifty international charities and UN agencies have made a joint media appeal to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Some of the charities that have signed the petition have Australian branches including: Amnesty International, Oxfam, Care International, War Child and HelpAge International.
United Nations agencies that have signed the petition include: Humanitarian Coordination/Resident Coordinator, occupied Palestinian territory; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); United Nations Women and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The petition states:
“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now'”.
Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz notes that it is telling that Israel’s name is not mentioned in the petition:
“Was this deliberate? Did the announcement also intend to appeal to the Egyptian regime to open its border crossing and allow the exit/entrance of people and trade into the Gaza Strip and out of it?”
The petition also appears to overlook a number of key issues.
Firstly, the petition does not refer to the reasons for the blockade, or any solution to the problem of rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip that precipitated the blockade. As Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, if this is not mentioned in the statement, “then the call is meaningless.” Palmor also said that any “new ideas to deal with the cause of the problem would be welcomed if they were put forward in earnest.”
Secondly, the petition in describing the blockade as being “in violation of international law” overlooks the UN’s own Palmer Report which found that the blockade of Gaza was legal under international law (see previous AIJAC article). This obviously raises the question of the propriety of UN agencies signing a petition declaring something illegal when a commission set up by the UN Secretary-General found it to be legal. Does every UN agency get to have its own policy on these issues?
Thirdly, since May 2010 Israel has eased the blockade and currently it has been reported that there is no shortage of goods in Gaza, except for fuel, which is not Israel’s fault. Avi Issacharoff explained some of these realities in Haaretz:
“An average of 250 cargo trucks pass through the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Gaza Strip from Israel every day. Israeli records show that last April, for example, 4,171 trucks crossed the border… when considering the fact that there’s a ‘blockade’, supposedly, these numbers are quite impressive.”
He notes that while some complain that this total is lower than before the Hamas takeover in 2007, in fact:
“…the Israeli side vehemently claims that the numbers are such because there is no demand from the Palestinian side, due to the Hamas government’s desire to maintain the high profile of the smuggling tunnels (if more good come in from Israel, there will be less smuggling in the tunnels and less taxes going to the Hamas government).”
Issacharoff also noted the real cause of the fuel shortage in Gaza Strip:
“The source of that problem stems from the Hamas government’s refusal to pay the high price for a liter of fuel (like every Israeli citizen pays) and its insistence on receiving smuggled fuel from the Egyptian side at a cheap price, facing off against the Egyptian regime’s complete refusal to allow the continued smuggling of fuel into Gaza (also in light of the serious fuel crisis in Egypt itself.
All other goods are available in the Gaza Strip markets, and in abundance. This is the result of the Israeli government’s decision, following the flotilla in May 2010, to allow most good[s] into Gaza aside from those that could be used for developing weapons or construction materials.
This of course, is in addition to the intensive activity occurring underground in the Rafah tunnels. For example, the smuggling of building materials that have allowed for a real estate boom over the last few months in Gaza. We’re not talking about a small tunnel or two, but about an entire industry that gives income to thousands of people and feeds a significant amount of money into the Hamas government’s coffers.
These facts reveal that the term ‘blockade’ doesn’t have anything to do with the flow of goods into Gaza.”
Evelyn Gordon also explored the possible motivations behind this petition in the Commentary Magazine website:
“… So why are these agencies suddenly trying to resurrect a nonexistent issue? Granted, most of them need no excuse to attack Israel, but there’s a more urgent motivation – a need to divert attention from the real culprit before the world, and the Palestinians themselves, cop onto the truth: Gaza’s real problem is that the Palestinians’ own elected government couldn’t care less about its people’s welfare.
Last week, Gaza’s only power plant shut down because armed gangs in Sinai hijacked a fuel convoy, and there were no fuel reserves to cover the shortfall. Given the ongoing security chaos in Sinai, that is likely to recur with increasing frequency if Hamas continues to insist on relying exclusively on smuggled fuel.
But the alternative, importing fuel legally via Israel, is unacceptable to Hamas – not only for financial reasons (legal imports both cost more and deprive Hamas of the taxes it collects from the smuggling tunnels), but as a matter of principle: It would rather see its own people suffer than cooperate with Israel.
Consider, for instance, what happened in February, when another shortage of smuggled fuel shut down the power plant. Egypt promptly offered to send an emergency shipment via Israel, because the Egypt-Gaza border terminal isn’t equipped to handle large cargo shipments. But Hamas refused, saying it would only accept the shipment if it came through Sinai. In other words, it preferred leaving its people without power during one of the coldest months of the year to accepting a shipment via Israel.
Nor is this exceptional: As I noted last week, it would also rather have its people drink polluted water than let Israeli firms help build a desalination plant.
But if the world woke up to the fact that the party that actually won the last Palestinian election was more interested in hurting Israel than in helping its own people, it might question the Palestinians’ readiness for statehood. And that, of course, would undermine one of these agencies’ most sacred dogmas. So instead, they’ve decided to flak for Hamas: to cover its own sins by redirecting international anger at Israel.
In short, organizations founded to defend the little people against oppressive rulers are now instead defending the government that oppresses them. It’s a sad commentary on how low these groups have fallen.”